My well, our water
Participatory Urban Aquifer Mapping: Enabling citizens to be scientists, managers and stewards of groundwater
India is rapidly urbanizing. The number of people living in urban India is expected to grow to around 800 million by 2050. Urban India is grappling with multiple water management challenges. The dependence on groundwater of urban India and the criticality of groundwater for growth of urban areas is now beginning to be acknowledged in academia and the national discourse on water. However, groundwater as a source has never been a part of formal urban water supply planning. The management of groundwater as a source for the city – both its quality and quantity – is now becoming increasingly important. This is true for almost all the diverse kinds and sizes of urban areas in India.
Currently groundwater abstraction, particularly in the urban context, is atomized. Combinations of formal and informal openwell, borewell, groundwater and water treatment markets enable citizenry to cope with the inadequacies and shortcomings of formal institutional water supply & sanitation services. The greatest challenge of groundwater management is therefore the need to embed management responses in the practices of this universe of dispersed actors. Our understanding of Aquifers, the logical “unit” for groundwater management is very poor. While administrative boundaries help us organize our governance on the surface, aquifers under our feet don’t necessarily follow any of these boundaries. How, then, do we evolve a way of understanding our aquifers and enabling aquifer management responses based on this understanding?
Bengaluru is a city that is no stranger to the challenges mentioned above. Infact various parts of Bengaluru are currently completely dependent on private groundwater abstraction & groundwater markets. It is in one such watershed - the Yamalur Watershed in the south-east of Bengaluru that we – Biome Environmental Trust & ACWADAM with support from Wipro and Map Unity, are attempting to explore an approach to help address some of the challenges mentioned above.
Can the process of developing an understanding of the aquifer – mapping the aquifer – itself be driven by the participation of these dispersed set of groundwater actors? How can this be done? If such an approach be evolved, can the communication of the science of aquifers & its management to them then lead to forms of self-regulation in longer term self-interest on the part of groundwater users? And is this a way to achieve aquifer management responses? What are the services and enabling policy conditions for such an approach to bear fruit? These are some of the questions this initiative wants to explore. We invite you, experts in water – but more importantly citizens of the city – to come share your thoughts, experiences and learnings and be a part of this innovative exploration.
We hope to help citizens share the stories of their wells, borewells, lakes, STPs etc with the city. We hope to strengthen the conversations amongst citizens on these stories, and bring groundwater science and the spirit of public good & common property stewardship into these conversations. And through this we hope to become a community that thinks not merely of “my well” but “our water”.
Of course many questions still need answering as the initiative progresses and limitations of the approach may emerge in due course of time. New questions are also expected to evolve. Which institution will be the “owner” and “driver” of the approach, how will this institution overcome its capacity limitations and how will this institution engage with civil society to make larger citizen participation a reality are big questions that are clearly still open. With your participation this innovative exploration hopes to help find answers to these questions and evolve more relevant questions.